Things Not Shown

A common phrase in writing is “show, don’t tell.” Sometimes “not showing” can be even more powerful than “showing” OR “telling.” Withholding information from the audience is a tactic famous in the horror genre but effective for storytelling in general.

In E2. To the Airport we don’t see any mourning for Beatrice. She was hit by a bus in C4, but Jay and Faith didn’t notice because they were in another dimension. When they returned, Dan didn’t tell them what happened to Beatrice. He finally broke the news by cutting a cupcake into thirds instead of fourths. We didn’t get to see Faith or Jay’s reaction.

Instead, E2 begins with Jay telling his mother about Faith staying indoors and bawling for weeks. Then Faith drives Jay to the airport, showing the reader how she’s recovered. She’s feeling better, but Beatrice’s death still weighs heavily on her and Dan.

There are three reasons I decided not to show Faith’s full reaction to Beatrice’s death:

First, it moves the plot at a brisk pace. I couldn’t describe weeks of depression and recovery without slowing down the story and boring the audience. I instead ramp up the tension by killing Beatrice in B4 and drawing out the reveal until E1, and even then making the character’s reactions a cliffhanger. I then make Jay allude to weeks of depression and recovery, and have his mother react sympathetically. The storm brewed and passed, and the heroes continue their journeys in its aftermath.

Second, withholding that information from the reader forces them to imagine Faith’s reaction for themselves. We know how distraught she must have been at the death of her girlfriend, but without the details, we must imagine her emotional state for ourselves. This is a staple of great horror movies: what the viewer can see isn’t nearly as scary as what they can’t. I hope it works for tragedy as well; by withholding the reaction, I force the reader to react instead.

Third, Faith is meant to be a perky, happy character fueled by inexhaustible childlike curiosity. This doesn’t mean she can’t be sad or angry (in fact, her even temper means her scenes of sadness and anger stand out). But readers understand characters through their actions; if I showed Faith’s period of loss and mourning, a reader might get the wrong impression of her. They might remember her as “the one who was crying,” or “the one whose story is about missing her girlfriend.” She chose to stay indoors, in privacy, so her friends would not see her moments of weakness; likewise, the reader cannot see her either. Faith won’t allow herself to be pigeonholed by one scene of tragedy. We’ll let the tragedy be implied.

With these points in mind, refraining from revealing information to the reader has two almost contradictory results: Faith’s period of mourning is amplified by the reader’s imagination, while simultaneously she escapes being labeled as a tragic character. The reader understands that Faith has been dealt a blow, but also that she can recover. I hope I’ve handled the restriction of information well enough that the technique is effective.

As she drives Jay to the airport, we learn Faith has been painting. Creating art is a good way to deal with emotions in a healthy manner, and Faith has been associated with art before (like in B2and B3), but because of Beatrice’s death Faith’s artistic inclination suddenly seems more earnest. Without Beatrice, Faith falls back on art. It is her solid foundation. Art is the grandchild of God, says Virgil in Dante’s Inferno.

Also notice that Faith helps Jay. Not only does she drive him to the airport, but she also offers him hygiene products if he needs them. (He doesn’t, but this is another chance to remind the reader Jay is trans. I don’t want to focus on that aspect of his identity too much, but I think this moment humanizes both characters.) Faith is always looking for ways to help. She guided Dan in the afterlife until he decided to gamble his soul away. She taught Jillian how to smoke. She put up with her uncle when he was rambling about some conspiracy theory. She even came early to the centipede-smoking-party to ask Dan to keep his distance from Beatrice. She is the glue that holds the group together.

Finally, she gives Jay an envelope containing a card with her art and an original sketch. There are a lot of papers passed around in this story: Dan gets his Eternity Card from Anihilato. Jillian gets a flier from her teacher and studies a map in a pamphlet at the museum. Faith first sees the Sheridanian birds in a brochure in her uncle’s truck, and then receives a red card-stock pamphlet from Jango. Now Faith passes Jay an envelope. Why?

Well, the card in the envelope features art she made after Beatrice’s death. By giving away the fruits of her grief, she shows how she has overcome that grief—or, at least, that she’s on the way. Her struggle made her stronger.

She also says not to open the envelope until after customs, which suggests there are drugs inside. In A1, Dan got a cricket from Jango and then went to the afterlife. In B3, Jillian got a cricket from Faith and then watched an episode of anime. In C4, Dan teaches Faith and Jay to smoke centipede and they spend a whole chapter in the great beyond. The passage of drugs from one party to another leads them into a new world. Here, Faith is ushering Jay towards Sheridan with a gift. More parallels, a la D2’s commentary. And, it offers another perspective on the transaction of papers and pamphlets already discussed.

Next week Jay entertains himself on a plane flight, and I’ll tell you nice folks about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. See you there! Keep eating your worms!

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